In 1992, 19 pioneering Networking leaders gathered in Colorado Springs for the inaugural SPN Annual Meeting. In 2019, the event returned to Colorado Springs, this time drawing over 1,200 leaders representing over 500 organizations from all 50 states.
During the last week of October, attendees braved the cold and snow to be inspired, develop new strategies, and celebrate the growth and accomplishments of the Network. Through panel discussions, workshops, and peer meetings, Network leaders considered how to advance state-based policy solutions that improve the lives of Americans. Now in its 27th year, SPN’s Annual Meeting was a memorable week of inspiration, practical takeaways, and connections that strengthened the 50-state Network of organizations and people dedicated to promoting state solutions that increase personal freedom and opportunity for all Americans.
SPN’s 27th Annual Meeting featured plenary speakers who inspired attendees with a vision for growth and practical insight on how to build organizational influence, as well as personal leadership and success. Robyn Benincasa, founder of World Class Teams, adventure racing world champion, and CNN Hero, discussed how the Network can build resilient teams and leadership when the stakes are high and the going gets tough. New York Times bestselling author and CEO of StoryBrand Donald Miller explained how clarifying a brand message strengthens an organization’s influence and its ability to reach audiences. Jay Papasan, co-author of The ONE Thing, challenged attendees to identify and relentlessly pursue their ONE thing, and he shared a framework for achieving extraordinary results by focusing on what’s most important instead of attempting everything.
For many attendees across the Network, SPN’s Annual Meeting is also a primary resource for professional development. Designed to encourage leadership and professional growth, SPN’s skill-building sessions shared ideas and strategies across key nonprofit capabilities, including fundraising, communications, government affairs, operations, and more. Whether they were looking to specialize in a certain discipline, become better managers, or learn once and for all how to make meetings productive, attendees walked away with practical tools they could apply to their work as soon as they returned to the office.
In addition to professional development, SPN’s Annual Meeting served as a platform for sharing the state policy solutions that are strengthening communities and improving the lives of Americans. Through SPN’s Policy Main Stage and several roundtable discussions, attendees heard about solutions and trends related to timely policy issues affecting everyday Americans—issues such as pension and healthcare reform, school choice, workplace freedom, and removing barriers to jobs. State-based leaders and policy experts shared what’s working and what’s not, and through these discussions, attendees gained policy ideas, best practices, and new connections to equip them to be forces for positive change back home.
SPN’s Annual Meeting not only connected current state-based leaders, but it also brought together the next generation of Network leaders. SPN’s Generation Liberty Fellowship (GLF) provides young professionals interested in pursuing a Network career the opportunity to attend Annual Meeting. This year’s program included 55 fellows representing 26 states. Throughout the week, they participated in exclusive sessions to hone professional and leadership skills and build relationships with peers and think tank leaders from across the country. Fellows learned about career opportunities within the free-market Network, as well as SPN’s ongoing resources for professional development and connections to organizations within the Network. With this class of Fellows, SPN’s Generation Liberty Fellows network now totals 500+ alumni.
While plenty of opportunities to increase human freedom still exist, big things are indeed happening across the states. SPN’s 27th Annual Meeting celebrated the hard work of Network leaders and organizations who are changing lives by championing state-based solutions.
On October 30, SPN presented its annual Thomas A. Roe Award to Kim Dennis, president and CEO of the Searle Freedom Trust. The Roe Award, named after SPN founder Thomas A. Roe, Jr., recognizes an individual whose achievements have greatly advanced free-market philosophy and policy solutions. The 2019 Roe Award honored Kim Dennis’s decades of work to advance policy research and free-market reforms through her stewardship of the Searle Freedom Trust, as well as her other endeavors to build bridges between philanthropists and the free-market Network.
The Bob Williams Awards for Outstanding Policy Achievement, named after the Network’s most iconic policy expert and friend to many, Bob Williams, celebrated state think tanks’ work to promote state solutions that are paving the way for national impact. The Center of the American Experiment won the Most Influential Research category for their work to save Minnesotans from a costly electricity mandate. The Foundation for Government Accountability’s “Waivers Gone Wild” campaign—helping Americans move from welfare to work by reigning in work requirement waivers in state welfare programs—won Best Issue Campaign. The Commonwealth Foundation received Biggest Home State Win for their work to expand school choice to 15,000 more Pennsylvania students, and Libertas Institute took home Biggest Win for Freedom for their work to help pass the nation’s first digital privacy law.
SPN’s Annual Meeting also celebrated several state think tank-driven victories. The 2019 Network Award recognized a Network coalition of state think tanks that worked together to end the practice of states taking union dues out of home caregivers’ Medicaid support checks before the assistance ever reached the patient, child, or their caregiver. Thanks to this coalition’s multi-year effort, a federal rule passed on May 2, 2019, ending the scheme and enabling home caregivers to keep more money in their pockets and provide better care to their patients. The Center of the American Experiment, Freedom Foundation, Illinois Policy Institute, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation helped put an end to this unfair practice.
Ask most attendees, and they will tell you that the most important aspect of SPN’s Annual Meeting is the opportunity to build and cultivate relationships with peers, mentors, philanthropic partners, and experts who can help them grow personally and professionally. This year was no exception. With numerous networking events on the schedule, attendees took full advantage of the time to re-connect with old friends and make new ones.
Annual Meeting also included time for several of SPN’s peer networks and policy working groups to meet and exchange ideas, encouragement, and lessons learned. For many, these personal connections at Annual Meeting are among the most rejuvenating experiences—they re-energize Network leaders to continue the fight for freedom in their states and remind them that they are not alone in the challenges they face.
Before saying farewell, attendees gathered for a final night of networking and fun at SPN’s State Night on October 31, 2019. Held at Phantom Canyon Brewing Company in downtown Colorado Springs, State Night featured food, drinks, and activities unique to Colorado Springs, and for the first time in Annual Meeting’s history, attendees celebrated Halloween with their Network friends.
SPN’s 27th Annual Meeting was a truly memorable experience, but there’s more to come! In 2020, SPN’s Annual Meeting heads to Chicago. We invite you to join us for SPN’s 28th Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL, on August 31 – September 3, 2020. Registration will open in March 2020.